Episode 32 - Language and Reading Comprehension with Mindy Bridges, PhD, CCC-SLP
Mindy Bridges, PhD, assistant professor in the Intercampus Program in Communicative Disorders and the Director of the Reading, Language and Learning Lab.
Dr. Bridges received her bachelor's degrees in speech-language pathology and audiology and linguistics from the University of Iowa and her master's degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She spent the next seven years working as a speech-language pathologist in a variety of settings, with a particular emphasis on pediatric language and reading development and disorders. Dr. Bridges completed her doctorate at the University of Kansas in 2009.
Interest in these areas of research come from the relationship between language and reading development as well as previous work as a speech-language pathologist.
Dr. Bridges is one of the founding members and steering committee of Providing Opportunities for Women in Educational Research (POWER). The mission of POWER is to connect, support and advocate for women conducting research in the fields of education and child development. POWER seeks to reduce gender inequity in leadership roles, establish a professional network to maximize career advancement and retention, and enhance women's visibility in the field.
Danielle Scorrano: Welcome to the READ Podcast, Dr. Mindy Bridges.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: I am so thrilled to be here.
Danielle Scorrano: I am thrilled to be here too. I feel like we have somehow been connecting through the universe not knowing for the past, maybe two and a half years. And finally, we get a chance to talk to each other and I'm just so excited to hear what comes of this conversation.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: I think we could talk all afternoon.
Danielle Scorrano: I think we can too. Why don't we start with your story? I want to learn more about your profession, your passions, even some of the impacts that you've made so far in your career that you're most proud to share with our listeners.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Okay. Sure. So I am a speech pathologist, speech language pathologist by background and I feel like that's a really important for people to know about me because I really I think that my connection and understanding of language as it relates to reading is a strength of mine. And also what makes me so passionate about this field. I was a practicing speech language pathologist for seven years. I did not think I would [00:01:00] be a researcher. I was always interested in research, but I didn't, I thought it was not the career path for me, but I worked in everywhere from adult rehab to child, early childhood centers and throughout that whole setting and different groups of people, individuals with difficulties, I was always interested in reading.
So, how do kids learn to read? Why do adults who were able to read, why do they lose that? So, of course, I ended up going back to school. I was lucky I was in the Kansas City area and Dr. Hugh Catts happened to be just right down the street, and I was lucky enough to be his mentee for years at the University of Kansas. I was there when Tiffany Hogan was there. She's a good friend of mine and another one of his mentees, my academic sister. My academic family is strong and I really, while I was there, I really just came to love the connection between language and reading, both kids who do well at it, but also those kids who struggle. So I'm interested in all aspects of reading, both word reading and comprehension, but I have a particular interest in reading comprehension- both prevention and [00:02:00] intervention.
Danielle Scorrano: Mmm, as you were talking and you mentioned Dr. Catts and Dr. Hogan, my first response was how casual. And then I started thinking about the Avengers, I've been getting into the MCU series recently. And I could just picture all of you as some Avengers team taking over the world of reading. So I just had to start with that.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: You know when you're in a situation and you don't realize how amazing it is, because you're just in the middle of it? When I look back just having that time to really sit and learn and talk to those two in like great detail was just really some of the best, really best times of my career thus far. And I'm lucky to collaborate with both of them still.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, we'll have a lot of the research that you have been collaborating with them, as well as some of your recent studies on the READ Podcast, our website, which I'm looking forward to sharing with our READers.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Yeah, I think one of the things you asked me about is what I'm most proud of or something that I'm most impactful, one of the things that I did that I feel most proud of. I think [00:03:00] I really like hearing from either past students or past teachers or speech pathologists who've worked on a research project that I was on. I like hearing them say that they're doing something in the field and it's working. So I have this kind of set of narrative, storybook interventions that actually we developed for a grant that Dr. Catts, Hugh, and Diane Nielson from the school of education and I had years ago. It was an RTI study with kindergarteners, and as part of that study, we developed a narrative and vocabulary intervention related to books. So every unit was around a popular book and I've continued that. I've written out like 40 different lesson plans and they use them in the department. I've got some pilot data. I haven't done a lot with it yet because I just, there's only so much I can do. But the people that I know that are using those out in the field are really enjoying them, and they're seeing student outcomes, but I think also they're learning. The best thing I ever learned was one of the school districts that I shared these narrative lessons with during the in-service that I gave to [00:04:00] the whole district, they're writing their own now.
So they have learned, they've kind of split up and every teacher and speech pathologists in the elementary schools are each taking a book every year and they're writing a new unit based on kind of what set up. And I just, that makes me really, that makes me really proud, and that's why I do this.
Danielle Scorrano: I want to hear more about your collaborative work. And you had mentioned just now how you have teachers and SLPs writing lesson plans together, which I know is something that I'm really interested in, and probably if we were to continue talking through the end of the day until you pick your daughter up from school, will probably be the thing that we want that I think we would talk about the most. I want to focus when you talked about with language and reading comprehension, because I fundamentally believe, and the research supports that language is that mediating thing that governs truthfully everything that we do, especially in the classroom. And when I think about understanding reading development, I'm drawn to the two seminal frameworks, Gough and Tunmer's Simple View of Reading and [00:05:00] Scarborough's Reading Rope, both have this element of language, language comprehension, and as a teacher, it seems so elusive. Like what does language even mean? What does language comprehension even mean? Is it the way that my students are just understanding the words that are coming my mouth? Or is it something that is much broader again, back to MCU reference, are we going through multiple worlds or dimensions? I don't know. But what are these factors of language that actually contribute to reading development and specifically with reading comprehension, as we see it?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Right. So I love that you talked about both the simple view and of the Scarboroughs Reading Rope. And I'll talk about that more in a minute in terms of communicating to teachers, but really when we think about the areas of language that really related to reading comprehension, we have things that are the form of language, how we kind of use language and that would include morphology and syntax, so how we put sentences together, how we use morphological endings to express either a new word or express the type of word that you're using. Also, [00:06:00] we have content is really important. Vocabulary is key. And this is, I think the one area of language that teachers really understand, you know, they understand. I think that vocabulary is really important and they're incorporating that. I think they have a lot of questions about how to choose words, but we know that that's really important. And then also the use of language, right? So more that pragmatic language and that's where narrative language comes in there and if language is very related to our ability to comprehend.
So the more research has shown that the more that you know about the components of narratives, so that's there was a plot and there's characters that drive it and there has to be some sort of resolution. The more that we know about that, the better reader we are, at least with a narrative text, I love to talk to teachers who are, and parents, by the way, who have questions about language. I love to use Scarborough's Rope and show them that strand, because I think, when we talk about reading comprehension, I can say, when you're doing any of these things, when you're talking about vocabulary, when you're teaching, even these rules of grammar, when you're talking about background, increasing background knowledge or [00:07:00] making inferencing, you're actually helping reading comprehension. Right? So all, I think, I think that's kind of an aha moment sometimes for teachers and for parents. Teachers, you know, want to know what they can do to help reading comprehension as if it's this kind of set skill. And it's really, it's not really a set skill. It's a, it's something that we do that involves a lot of different components of language and word reading, of course. So I'm showing them that strand, I think really helps them understand the components, but it's tricky, right? Like I'm a speech pathologist. I studied this extensively for six years and I'm still learning, you know, more and more about it every year. So I understand why it's kind of this complex and tricky thing to wrap your head around.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. And I'd like to dig deeper into reading comprehension, if I can, because. I taught at Windward for a number of years before my role at the Windward Institute and I actually was doing the podcasts as I was in eighth grade teacher, because I wanted to dig into topics like this. [00:08:00] And, you know, I, in, in thinking about reading comprehension, you're right, it seems on the surface, like this discrete set of skills yet, it's more global than that. And I know, speaking of Dr. Hugh Catts, he had written an article recently. I think it was an American educator about how we misconceive or miss conceptualize reading comprehension. So why and how is it so complex? Let's dig deeper into this. I'd like to know more.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Yeah, I mean, I wish I could give you all the answers. That article is amazing. If people haven't read it, I highly encourage them to read it. And I've been hearing Hugh talk about this for years. I think my favorite line from that article is that comprehension can't be reduced to a single notion because it's not a single ability. Right? We talk about reading comprehension, kind of like word reading and word reading is kind of a discrete skill, right? You can, you can tell if a child can decode or not. Comprehension has so many facets and pieces involved in it, and we don't know what is most important for [00:09:00] what age, grade or what level. Right? So I'm actually, I'm working on a couple of studies looking at kids in the upper elementary and adolescents. And that's one of the things we're doing is we're trying to see what the structure of reading comprehension is across time. Right? So it might be that in sixth grade, vocabulary and inferencing is, you know, the driving, I'm just making this up, but the driving force of comprehension, but maybe in older kids, it's more, there's more, things like motivation coming into play and background knowledge. Of course, we know that background knowledge is huge. If you don't know a lot about what you're reading, you're not going to be able to comprehend it, no matter how great your vocabulary is.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, definitely. So you talked about, in your research looking at students at upper elementary or across developmental ages, perhaps there are more important reasons or markers of reading comprehension. I would imagine then too, there's a lot of facets that would lead to difficulty in reading comprehension.[00:10:00]
I have students that are exceptional decoders that are so automatic and fluent in their word level reading, and I'm actually thinking of a student I had number of years ago, who was perhaps the best decoder I'd ever taught. He could, he was automatic. He was fluent. He read with expression. And yet even in the most literal questions I was asking, I had to scaffold literal questions.
And to me the, I mean, for those of you that know scaffolding and literal versus inferential higher level questions, you would probably think, wow, how did she do that? And this is not a testament to myself, but really in terms of looking at him, it was really hard for him to comprehend what was on the page down to identifying main character versus supporting character. And so I guess my question is how do we then know that as a teacher and perhaps what are those key components of screening and intervention in your work have you [00:11:00] found are maybe best practice or effective practice in helping to support a child like that?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: So, let me make sure I, are you asking kind of what the best screening or testing or how then once, you know, someone has a difficulty what to do with those kids?
Danielle Scorrano: I guess all of it. So let's, let's scaffold it for our readers. So let's talk, let's talk about screening and intervention first. So I know that, that's a great up question. I can sometimes go down like a story and then I ask seven questions in one. So let's start with looking at kids from dyslexia to DLD, developmental language disorders, it's a spectrum. So what do we do first in terms of screening for reading difficulties? And you may want to talk a little bit about RTI, but let's, let's just talk about what it means for screening and the research you've been doing.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Sure. So screening usually occurs in an RTI framework, which is early in the identification and prevention framework where you kind of screen kids to see who might be at [00:12:00] risk, give them extra support and then move on from there. Screening for kids for word reading, we are really good at figuring that out. So we can look at things like phonological awareness or non-word fluency. We have lots of things that are really good, good, quick and dirty identifiers of kids who might struggle to read words. Reading comprehension, we are still learning. There are some things out there obviously still decoding is important, right? Because you have to be able to decode, but we know things like vocabulary, so how, how many words, and not, not only how many, but the breadth or the depth of their knowledge. If they can talk a little bit more about those words. There's some really interesting work coming from some speech pathologists actually, around narrative language. So Trina Spencer and Doug Peterson have some really great screening measures. And progress monitoring measures around narrative language that have shown to be a really good predictor of later both language and reading comprehension, because those go hand in hand. Tiffany Hogan has got a really nice screener that they're [00:13:00] working on to try and identify young kids at risk for reading comprehension.
But it's hard to find, it's hard to get a good screening measure for language that has a really good, sensitivity and specificity, meaning it's going to pull out the kids who are really at most in need, but not over-identify the kids. So we're, you know, we're still working on that, but all of those language components are really what we need to be looking at to find those kids who are going to be struggling at reading comprehension.
Danielle Scorrano: So what would that look like in terms of, uh, let's say early, if I have a child coming in for a parent or for an educator, what would be those markers that would cause maybe some pause for my child who maybe is entering preschool or kindergarten that they may need some more attention or more intervention.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: So I would say low vocabulary, so, you know, struggling with that. Grammar actually for those young kids is actually a pretty good predictor of later reading [00:14:00] difficulties. It's particularly comprehension. Being able to retell a story is actually a really nice indicator, both looking at, that also that allows you to see if they're getting the main components, but also you can look at more of the micro level, so what kind of sentence structure are they using? Are they including important details? So really, those are the highlights of some things that you really want to be looking for, to try and grab those kids that might be at risk.
Danielle Scorrano: Hmm, that's good. Those are good information. But I think I, when talking about these markers, I think it's always good for parents and guardians and educators to hear because you know, you might be looking at a child that has having difficulty, and you're wondering if they are in need of more services. So I really appreciate that, that list. Now, as we move from screening to intervention, the terms I hear a lot are RTI response to intervention, and then MTSS, which is multi-tiered Systems of Support. Where does intervention fall on these two categories, and how do you conceptualize these two as [00:15:00] same and different?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Yeah. So I think RTI and MTSS, I think they're not interchangeable, but they do have a lot of things in common. So they're both kind of multi-tiered systems that include assessment and intervention, right. They both include evidence-based instruction. When we talk about RTI, we're really talking about trying to make sure that you have good quality tier one instruction, so good classroom instruction.
That's actually one of the best things about RTI, this whole discussion about this multi-tier framework is it put the emphasis on, are we actually giving kids a curriculum that's evidence-based and is moving most of the kids. Right? If you have a classroom that 50% of the kids are struggling, that's probably not, that's probably your tier one, your primary classroom instruction is just not cutting it, right, either whether it was curriculum or what have you. Then within that regular classroom environment, you periodically screen all kids. And it's usually done three times a year, sometimes four and the screenings are [00:16:00] quick, right? They're not meant to be diagnostic. They're meant to pick up kids who are at risk. And these might be looking at a narrative language, you know, quick measure looking at non-word reading fluency. There's a variety of these. And then those kids that are considered to be at risk get put into kind of the supplemental instruction or intervention. You're not doing anything different with those kids. They're just, they often just need more dosage, more time, but then the kids who continue to struggle in that, you know, evidence they're getting the best evidence-based tier one classroom instruction. They're getting an extra dose of good intervention.
Kids are still struggle, those are kids that typically the need of kind of more of a diagnostic assessment procedure. And they usually get one-on-one. These are kids that are really struggling and need something, maybe a little different at that point. So they need the dosage, but they might need some sort of intervention that's a little, a little bit more attuned to what their struggles are. MTSS includes RTI, but it's really includes more of the whole school. So it includes things like professional development [00:17:00] for teachers, behavioral support systems. So it includes kind of the whole school, often parent support type thing. So, so it includes RTI, but encompasses so much more.
Danielle Scorrano: I like how you brought that down actually could picture, you know, it's interesting. I could, I'm speaking to a speech language pathologist, I felt like as you were talking, I was creating a graphic organizer in my mind. It was just, listening to you, it was just so easy to understand, university professor as well, but thank you for that.
And as I asked this next question, perhaps related to RTI, MTSS, and particularly teachers, I want to avoid that I'm not necessarily making an overall assumption about the field of education. However, I have spoken to people, some people in education, whether it's leaders or teachers, who may make the assumption, for example, that a child diagnosed with a developmental language disorder or a child with dyslexia, is [00:18:00] a special education challenge or special education circumstance as opposed to something that is occurs across the spectrum across all areas of education. So when you talked about MTSS as a school based system, you can see how everyone is involved in not only educating the child that have that IEP or that diagnosed learning disability, but it involves all areas of the culture.
And then for RTI, it's a spectrum. You are focusing on good tier one instruction, moving the children that need the extra support into a way that you're identifying and providing that extra intervention and support, maybe more dosage. And so I think that's really important people think in a binary way or not, but just to remind everyone about how much of a all encompassing spectrum it really is and that when we're educating children with learning disabilities, we are certainly educating our entire [00:19:00] population, and for good tier one instruction, not only does it benefit all kids, but it's absolutely necessary for children who need the extra support. Would that being said, when we think of language then, right, good classroom language is important for all kids.
And I want to get to the study that you sent me yesterday, the 20 21 study that you coauthored with Shane Piasta and others. And when I think of teacher knowledge and teacher skills, for example, a lot of the work that I've been reading about is this teacher knowledge and skills of the structure of reading, word level reading. And in this study, and we'll share it on the READ Podcast webpage, you and your colleagues focused on teacher knowledge of language structures of language specifically. So what are those key pieces that you can share with educators and families, leaders who listened to read about what needs to be, what teachers need to know and to be able to use in the skills we [00:20:00] need to have in order to help support the language of all children, specifically children with language-based learning disabilities.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Yeah. The things that I think about a lot, and so this study, I'll, I'll tell you about the language areas first, and then I'll tell you what motivated this study. So, I think teachers and parents, anyone who wants to educate children need to know about just general language development first of all, that there, there are milestones and there's also overlap, right? So we need to know that not all kids will progress in the same way, but there are some milestones where we can start to worry about children if they're falling behind morphology and syntax, right? So the structure of words and the structure of sentences. Can kids put together more complex sentences with lots of clauses and can they understand sentences that people give them with lots of clauses? Another area that we know is really important as vocabulary, right? Kids need to hear lots of words in lots of different contexts, and they need to learn relationships between [00:21:00] words. Okay. It's really important that we teach, words in the context of other interesting words.
Narrative language, and they keep talking about narrative language, but I do want to say also that expository text structure is also really important and we can talk about that a little bit more. And then, pragmatics and how we use language is really important. Right? So knowing, that kind of has to do a little bit with storytelling. And then in this particular study, we also asked teachers about their knowledge of a multilingual learners, right, because that's a really important topic right now. And so through all of my career, I'm always thinking about how teachers are, how educators are, talking, speaking in classrooms to young kids or elementary kids or older kids.
Right. And what do they know about language, maybe teachers who aren't using this kind of quality language, what we would like to see, maybe they don't know all of these, these concepts about language. And, and there's been a lot of studies looking at professional development of teachers, but the thing is we don't have a common metric to see what teachers alert. Right? So every study [00:22:00] kind of uses their own metric based on kind of what the professional development was, which is great. But I really wanted to know it would be great if we had all these professional development programs with language going on and we had one common metric that said, what did teachers actually learn?
But also I just kind of want to know what do early childhood and early elementary teachers know about language. We don't really know. There's studies that show that for instance, in preschools, there's not a high quality of language instruction going on, but we don't really know what teacher's knowledge is. So that's really, my colleagues from Ohio State, it was led by Shane Piasta, we developed a survey or, a test if you will, to look to see what the across those areas. So, you know, language or general language, morphology, syntax, vocabulary, narrative, we developed this survey and kind of tested the validity of it with pre-education teachers, early childhood teachers and the speech pathologists to see what teachers knew and actually if speech pathology students knew more than [00:23:00] about language, which I hope they do because that's the focus of their, their studying. And we just had a preliminary study. We're going to do some more validation work on it, but it provided us some really information, really interesting information about what pre-service early childhood teachers know and don't know about language. I wasn't surprised at the area of language they knew most about. Can you guess? Yeah. Vocabulary.
Danielle Scorrano: I mean, I read the study, so I wish I could have given, maybe I should go back and give a little pause so that when people are listening, they could say, Ooh, let me guess, let me guess.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Say it again.
Danielle Scorrano: It's vocabulary, right? It was that. Yeah.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Yes. So vocabulary, they knew the most about. Can you guess what? Maybe, I don't know if we, it in the paper, what maybe was the hardest for our pre-service teachers or where they got the lowest score.
Danielle Scorrano: I think I have a guess, but let me go back into it. Hold on READers. This will be really fun. Um, I think in the paper you said that they knew actually surprisingly more about the language development and multi-lingual [00:24:00] learners, because that seems to be a growing population. I'm going to guess narrative language.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Narrative language and syntax. Those were both really close. Um, and it's really interesting to me, actually, stories are such a important part of classroom education, right. But every time I go and do in-services with school districts, that is one of the areas that they really struggle in terms of knowing how to teach it and how to, how do we assess it and how to, um, assess what kids know about it. Right. And so that's been really interesting to me because it seems like this disconnect. So teachers often take like a child literacy, like a course about children's books. Right. But they don't get a course about how to teach narrative language, using those books that they learned about, which I find just really interesting.
Danielle Scorrano: I do too, because I, I taught prior to Windward and my first day at Windward was learning what the elements of a story grammar frame were and embedding my [00:25:00] questioning and my language around that, which I had no idea. And part of my pre-service education was in social studies education, where again, learning now I should have known about narrative structure, because think about the, the, the rich language that was in social studies textbooks. But with that being said, were any of those findings actually surprising to you?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Not really. I mean, I, I was pleasantly happy with some of the scores overall. And not that again, not that I'm saying that I think teachers don't know anything about language. They, do you, there's so many things that a classroom teacher has to know. It's one of the hardest jobs, I think, in the, in the world, quite frankly, especially in the last two years. But no, I, I wasn't, I was, I was very happy that SLPs, we, our students, you know, scored pretty high. That made me a little bit nervous actually. But now I don't think so. Um, I haven't dug into the items, so I'm excited to really look at those and see where I [00:26:00] think there's probably going to be across both populations some difficulty.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. And it's interesting that you mentioned that., I think what it really shows is this, not even the onus or where the blame is, but where future directions of resources need to be invested in more, and actually going back to the study when you talked about even differences in types of coursework, the number of coursework, and whether that actually was a factor, I found it interesting that you commented about the role of experiential learning over coursework. So can you tell us a little bit more about why that might have been, why you looked at coursework and what the role of experiential learning and types of application would support knowledge building?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Right. I think we did maybe have some expectations that the number of courses might strengthen individuals score on this test, but you know, it really comes down to what was actually being taught in the, in that course. Right. And I think a lot of courses, [00:27:00] maybe don't kind of fully explain or discuss language in the way that I think we should whereas I think when you're out there in a field study or you're out there in a practicum, one, you have to learn what you have. There's some things that you just, you learn more about kids' language because you're hearing it, right? There's one, it's one thing to read about what a group of three to five year olds are going to say in terms of sentence, sentence structure, but then to be in the middle of it.
But also I think, I'm hoping that some of the people that did better had really good supervisors, had really good field, field study experiences where they saw a master teacher, who knew this, who knew how to do that quality focus instruction, who knew how to pick up a book.
First of all, choosing a book, even choosing the book to read in the classroom, there are some strategies, you know, there's some things to really look at taught, you know, picked up a book that had really rich vocabulary that had a narrative structure that knew when to stop and make connections between what the kids already knew in terms of vocabulary. Hopefully some of those experiences are what was driving, you know, kind of that maybe, why that made a [00:28:00] difference. I mean, that's, that's my hope anyway.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. And what is fascinating to me about language knowledge and language competencies for educators, and we'll get into speech language pathologist, because I'm so excited about it, is at least in my perspective, as I'm looking at reading education at large, how we teach it in word level reading, you could say, oh, here's a good tier one program to help with phonics instruction.
Oh, here. Here's what we call a core reading program. And when we look at core reading program, this, the good core reading programs almost have these language, these elements of language instruction embedded. But it's, it's not like you can, it's not like you can say, okay, this is going to be a package program about how to teach good language.
It's something that needs to be taught. The theory needs to be taught. And the application, the practice, the being taught under a skilled supervisor, observing you teach appropriate [00:29:00] questioning or how to give feedback to a child who has working memory deficit. It's, it's more, I don't want to say elusive, but it's not something that you could point to.
Just one thing, one tangible thing. And that's what fascinates me about language. And when I talk about resources, where do we then put our resources into providing better teacher preparation or better professional development? Which brings me to speech language pathologists. You are a speech language pathologist, and in the university level, still dedicating your research, work into it. And at Windward, we have speech language pathologists on staff that are not giving direct services to students. They're observing teachers and providing professional development. And so in where you sit in your professional career, is there a promise? Is this possible everywhere else? And can you share with our READ listeners, just why or how beneficial it is for a speech language pathologist to be [00:30:00] that expert leader in a school working directly with teachers?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: I mean, yes, I could talk about this for, oh, we said an afternoon, for a week. I always point out to SLPs that we are often the most knowledgeable person about some of these components in the school. Right. So we might know, we, we might know more about vocabulary because we've had, you know, lots of coursework related to not just how to teach vocabulary, but, but developmental progression of vocabulary and how to make all these different connections. We certainly know more probably about narrative language. You know, we, we give standardized narrative language tests. We know how to look at story retells and look to see all these different components of things. We're often one of the most knowledgeable people about certain components, and I think that overlooking our expertise and what we can bring as collaborators. Right? Because we're not, we aren't the only people who know these things. And in fact, there's lots of things we don't [00:31:00] know. I think it's really interesting how people in schools sometimes get in their comfort, their comfort zone.
So I SLPs often say like, I don't, I shouldn't have decoding or word reading for instance, but then I'll say, well, who do you think knows the most about phonological awareness or phonology, or at least who knows just as much? We do. I mean, we learn about that in lots of our courses. And then I have teachers who will say like, well, I don't feel like I can, I don't know how to choose a, an appropriate vocabulary word, for instance. Well, sure. You know, you, you definitely do you see how, how kids learn? So I think it's interesting how people get kind of in their lanes. And that's one of the things I actually like about RTI. I'm going to bring that back. RTI makes all of the kids, all of our kids, instead of the kids who are struggling, your kids and the kids in the regular education class, your kids, it's making us try to instruct all of the kids together.
And so I think sLPs. I think we could provide direct service. I've seen SLPs provide tier two intervention, for [00:32:00] instance. I think we have lots of possibilities as interventionists, but I also think we can just be, like you said, collaborators. I think we can provide support. I love when schools, I'm so excited when schools include an SLP on their curriculum, you know the curriculum. If they're picking a new English language arts curriculum, or even science or social studies, having an SLP as a part of that, I think is so important. I just, I think that the problem comes sometimes is that we're not always sure how to go about doing that. Right. And not just we as a profession, but schools in general.
And it's not always clear when we should be leaders and when we should be collaborators in the school. And I think that's something that we're working on. And I think that my national profession, I think, needs to work on it, but I think schools are, are, trying to, to figure that out. I've seen some schools who embrace their SLP and they're like at an important and critical part of their literacy instruction team. And then I've seen some schools where I asked the principal, like, [00:33:00] have you asked the SLP about that? And they're like, why would I do that? You know? I mean, so it's, it's, it's, it's really interesting, but I think we have so much potential to play such a crucial role in being part of the team.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. And even just serve as maybe like instructional coaches on some level. And in the first part of the interview, I'd asked you about studies and work that you're passionate about and what you're most proud of. And you did mention a study or series of studies that you said that the teachers and the SLPs were working on these lesson plans together. So tell me, tell me a little bit more about that. I mean, clearly you have an educator, a teacher, and an SLP working together on lesson plans. And so how did that even come about?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: I mean that wasn't even a study, sadly. That is just a school district that I used to consult with as an RTI specialist, as an RTI consultant and I worked with buildings, whole buildings [00:34:00] on how to increase literacy skills and they had a specific interest in reading comprehension. And so I, they originally, when I started to do the trainings, they wanted only the teachers to attend. I said, well, I want all the educators to be there. And I taught them, I showed them this, these kinds of narrative interventions that we used and it was, they really took it from there. So, I don't have, I sadly don't have data on this. I've seen it. I've gone back into the schools and I have firsthand knowledge of them continuing to do this. We have a preschool that our actual speech language pathology, master students now, they're going out in the field and they're doing these narrative interventions and the preschools. And as part of their learning program, they're learning how to write these lesson plans so that they can go out and share them in the schools that they then go out and work in. So I don't have, I sadly don't have data. It's on my list of grants to write.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I would be fascinated. I'm like, as soon as you start, as you get the grant and you start your studies, I would be fascinated to learn what you learn [00:35:00] about what you're learning from this, which I guess is leading me to my next question. I have recently identified as someone who likes to sit at the intersection of science and story.
I think I said that to you yesterday. And when I'm talking to you, I see you as someone who is sitting between science and story, because you have the story, these practices of, of how sLPs and teachers can collaborate to ultimately make their school better and you have also followed with the science of it. And the reason why I asked this next question is, you are someone who has been the forefront of collaborating across research disciplines. You've talked about a lot of the colleagues you've worked with already. You've also collaborated with schools and lift others in the field of research. Can you share some of what you have contributed to, or learned from through these types of collaborations. Maybe it's things that you've already talked about or new findings or new insights that you'd like to share.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Yeah. I [00:36:00] have been, I sometimes I have to just pinch myself. because when I think about the people I've been able to collaborate with they're individuals that I read their work when I was going through my doctoral program. So one of the, and I'm going to start first with talking about research collaborations, because there's two I'm really proud of. One work that started with this LARCC project, which was this huge multi-site multi investigator, $20 million grant, where we were kind of looking at reading comprehension in preschool through third grade. And from that collaboration, I have continued to work with two of the investigators, Shelley Gray and Kate Cain.
And we have two large grants right now that we're looking at the structure of reading comprehension, as well as kind of predictors and facilitators of reading comprehension and sixth and ninth grade. So, which is kind of out of my, I would have always said I was kind of a preschool to third grade expert and I'm slowly moving across the academic academic span. And we're learning so much about these older readers, right, these [00:37:00] comprehenders, both in English and we have the Spanish language sample as well. And then the other collaboration also from LARCC is with Tiffany and Shane Piasta. We just started a grant last year that is looking at a tier two intervention that's based on the LARCC instruction, but it was modified to be used with small groups of at risk first graders. And a portion of those first graders are identified as having DLD. So I am so excited to see what will happen with this research. We'll, we'll follow those kids to third grade so we can really see if a language focus kind of extra dose of intervention will help those kids. So I've been really proud of those collaborations because I think there we, in both of those teams, the first group of studies are more basic science, but our eye is still on what can we learn about the structure of reading so that we can help develop assessments and interventions for these older kids? So that's kind of the collaborations that I, you know, I'm most proud of and what I'm still continuing to learn [00:38:00] so much from these amazing women, women researchers. I told you, I have to say this, by the way, I told you yesterday that huge $20 million grant, that was part of the IES reading for understanding initiative, the four primary investigators of our group, so we had four PIs at four states were all SLPs, Shelley Gray, Laura Justice, Tiffany Hogan and Hugh Catts. We got one of the largest reading grants, we were all SLPs, so that doesn't tell you that we have a place at the table, nothing does. So I'm very proud of that.
But then, in terms of collaboration, you know, with families and with schools, I really think that the work that I do is typically situated in the schools. And I really think it's informed me as to what is, and what is not happening in the schools and why. So I think, you know, it's our tendency to kind of blame, like we know a lot about evidence-based practice for reading. We don't know a lot. We don't know everything, but we know a lot. And I think sometimes the tendency is [00:39:00] to blame schools or blame people, you know, why aren't you doing this? And I think we need to figure out why. Why is it why isn't some of this happening?
And I think there's some really important discussions to be had around that. And I think that is being out in the schools and doing this kind of research really helps me find the questions that I think for me are most important. I'm really important in translational research and doing things that make sense, right. So I could study an intervention. That's 10 hours a week one-on-one in a school. I mean, if it works, that's great, but that's not feasible. That's not, that's not implementable. So, I think the collaborations I've had with schools and with families and with teachers and SLPs really have made me be really cognizant of doing research that has the ability to scale up. I've been really, I mean, I've been really interested in implementation science and that whole field for that very reason. I mean, [00:40:00] science, that's kind of the field of how do we actually adapt to these evidence-based practices that we know work? How do we actually make them work in messier situations?
Right? And schools are messy. Districts are messy. And so, but that's where the real work is happening. And so I, it's hard research,
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: It's not clean, but that's, that's kind of what I've been really interested in. And I learned so much every time I go into a school.
Danielle Scorrano: I mean, you're speaking my language, like it's so the messiness is where the beauty is. It really is. And as you're talking, I'm wondering can you just share, what are those skills that you need to even, what are the skills that you think you have or that your colleagues have that make this work, they make you want to do this work and also make this work successful? Because when I think, when I read your work, or when I listened to you talk about the studies that you've done, or the collaborations that you have, that aren't even tracking, you're not even collecting data on, obviously there is a track record of success and effectiveness. [00:41:00] What are the, tell us the secrets of successful implementation science.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: I mean, I think one, you, you have to embrace the messy, it's not, this is not for everybody. Right? So if you want to be in a tightly controlled and knew all the answers, which you know, that is the case with some, with some researchers, this is not the field. But I think also, I think me having been a practicing SLP and I worked in schools for many years, I don't think that's critical, but for me, that skill has helped me a lot because I kind of know the language and I, I think I can go into a school and I understand school culture, and I can say, okay, I know that this is going to be hard, or you're going to have a hard time fitting this in, but I know you can do it because I've done it or, you know, I've seen other schools do it.
I think that's really important. I, I always, even if I have really great project directors, and people who are working for me that I trust implicitly, I am always going to the schools or I'm always [00:42:00] going to our school partners. So in the past we had a grant where we did a lot of testing of kids on Saturdays, and I was there a ton on the Saturdays and I didn't have to be. We had people that could run it, but, you know, I liked to see the parents that I like to see the teachers. I think that really makes a difference. And I think just like persistence and then having you know what, having the good collaborators. I could not, this is not the kind of work that you do well by yourself. Right. So I think having people that like the same kind of research, but bring together different skill sets, I learned so much every time I'm on these collaborator meetings. So I think that, I think those are kind of the skills that I think make me want to do this research. And I'm supported at my university for this kind of research for the most part, which I think this is hard research to do.
It takes a long time. You have to wait until the end to know the answer. And that's hard sometimes for early career folks, but I think it's really rewarding. I'm in this field because I want kids to read. I want kids to be successful and so this kind of messy [00:43:00] work is where, where I've always wanted to be.
Danielle Scorrano: Oh, I love that. I'm, sometimes when I'm on zoom with READ and as the cases right now, I feel like almost recording this as I'm walking, because there's so much energy that I'm feeling right now as we're talking. And I appreciate you talking about those skills because not only did the skills come in, but the energy and the inspiration I feel through this zoom screen. I hope people, I think people will also feel through their, through their earbuds when they're listening.
But, uh, I just, oh my gosh, I love that. The one question I wanted to end with is I created READ, research, education, advocacy to illuminate the integrated, comprehensive picture of how we educate children and what are those, how do we bring the evidence into the school so that we're supporting our, children's not only academic lives but their personal livelihood and as it pertains to [00:44:00] reading, I think one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on was because you offer this broad, this deeper and broader picture of what it means to educate children in reading. Right. I ultimately think that speech language pathologists and what the field of communication sciences and language can bring to the field of reading is unmatched, and there's so much more that could be explored.
And so it's something that I'm very, very passionate about, but for you, as you look in the future, what are you most excited to continue pursuing? And where do you see the field going?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: That's such a good question. I continue to be interested in helping our fields, and when I say our field, I mean speech language pathology, but also greater education, figure out where we sit this reading world. I think we're kind of at this crossroads where we know that we're important and [00:45:00] we sometimes are doing it well, but I'd like to see something, I'd like to see some work where we're a little bit more integrated.
And I see that coming, so I'm really excited, I'm really excited about that. And I think as schools continue to think about service delivery for kids, I think it's only natural that we think about how we, as that's changing and evolving, I think it's only natural to think about where we slip in there.
And I think I'm also really interested in how to tell people about language, like how, what's the best way, not just to disseminate to teachers and educators, which I obviously think is really important, but I also think it's equally important to talk to parents and families because I actually think, you know, most families are wanting things to do with their kids related to improving their academic life and improving their reading. And I think that if I could just sit down and talk to all parents. Some of the things you're doing are exactly what you need to be doing. So talk to your kids, talk about vocabulary, take them to the [00:46:00] zoo and make all these connections. I think empowering parents, like letting them see that what they're doing, they don't have to just sit and do flashcards.
I think that's what they want these activities, right? Like they want these packets where they feel like they're making a difference, but I want to tell them, look, you actually are making a difference. And for instance, when you're reading books, let me just give you these few extra suggestions. Let me tell you about how to question that will really increase the language. So those are the things that I feel like are going to continue to be part of what I do all the way through, because again, I think they have the most, they're going to have the most effects. They're small problems. Those are very small problems. See, I just tackled the real small problems, like how to get parents to communicate language with kids. That's easy. No one's been thinking about that.
Danielle Scorrano: Well, it's interesting because when you think about even research in how to make things habit and how to improved practices, it's those micro steps that really have the long lasting change. And it's not, I mean, obviously there are a lot of things that we need to do to tackle big system [00:47:00] problems, but even just those small changes are making lasting changes in the lives of kids.
So I actually, I really liked that and I'm not a parent yet, but I think now I'm like, okay, in the back of my mind, I'm raising a little one, that's a good practice. I don't have to buy the 52 deck of, what questions and answers ,we can just go to the zoo.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Yeah, and I think that, I think empowering parents, just helping them understand what they're doing and why they're doing it. I think it's really important.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I love that. Is there anything else you'd like to share with us? I mean, I could, again, keep you on all day. I know you eventually have to leave, start your weekend, but is there anything that you'd want to share as a sign off for our final question with our READ listeners?
Dr. Mindy Bridges: I mean, I feel like I should have some great imparting wisdom. I will say that the one hopeful thing that has happened to me this week or something that is giving me hope is when I started teaching [00:48:00] this reading disorders course that I teach for my master's students, I've been teaching it for six years. And the first year that I taught it, lots of students would come back and say in my field study, no, one's like, no one's doing that, like I don't, my SLP is not working with teachers at all, or, you know what I mean? We're not part of literacy at all. And I slowly, every year, I'm seeing more and more of my students who come back and say, I got to sit in on a curriculum meeting, or I was actually part of an IEP with my SLP supervisor for about reading. Like they, like we were there and I that's it's coming. I feel like that, that has been really exciting for me to see that because I talk about all these things in class and what we can do, and, you know, students sometimes are discouraged that it's not happening, but also I tell them you can be the change maker, right? So you're learning about this, and so go out and make it happen. So. I think that, that was, that brought us to my, to my face this week. I got an email from a student who's in her [00:49:00] first year at a school and they asked her to be on the literacy planning team that helps pick interventions and help pick assessments. And she was so proud of her role as part of that and that, it made my heart so happy. And that school is going to be, she's going to do a great job.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, it's going to be better for it.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Yeah.
Danielle Scorrano: And Dr. Bridges, we are better for you. I mean, you talk about Changemakers. You are a change-maker. I'm so excited. We got to speak together and I see more collaborations between the two of us in the future. And thank you so much for your time. I truly appreciate it.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: This was the best way to end a very long week.
Danielle Scorrano: Me too. I love it. Thank you.
Dr. Mindy Bridges: Thanks.
Reading comprehension, by nature, is multifaceted and complex, and for Mindy Bridges, PhD, understanding its development and factors in children is a key passion in her professional work and research. This episode dives deep into the role of language in reading comprehension. Dr. Bridges explains how various factors contribute to comprehension, reflects on her research on comprehension across age development, and offers insights on supporting children who struggle. Dr. Bridges discusses the role of collaboration and implementation science to better understand language and comprehension development in order to serve more schools and students.
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
1. Developing reading comprehension is complex and multi-faceted.
Language development is interwoven into the components that support reading comprehension.
"Comprehension has so many facets and pieces involved in it, and [in my research,] we’re trying to see what the structure of reading comprehension is across time."
2. Identifying of comprehension difficulties in preschool and early elementary include screening for
• Ability to retell a story (called “narrative language
• Sentence structure in spoken language
For any child, narrative language is a key skill in oral language and comprehension development.
Did you know? “An explicit and intensive focus on oral narrative language has a direct and meaningful impact on the quality of written narratives children produce, even for children with significant disabilities”
- Spencer & Peterson, 2020. Read their study here: Narrative Intervention: Principle to Practice
3. Instruction and intervention under Response to Intervention (RTI)
"While RTI and MTSS (Multi-tiered Systems of Support) are not interchangeable, they do have things in common."
• High quality tier one, classroom instruction
• Screening measures 3-4x a year
• More intensive or supplemental instruction, as well as increased dosage or time receiving instruction
"RTI includes screenings that are not meant to be diagnostic. They’re meant to pick up kids at risk."
4. The importance of educator knowledge of language’s role in learning
"Anyone who wants to educate children need to know about general language development, milestones… and that all kids will not progress in the same way."
Read about the Dr. Bridges’ study she coauthored (Piasta et al., 2022) about the importance of educator and practitioner content knowledge about oral language: Teachers’ content knowledge about oral language: Measure development and evidence of initial validity.
5. Current topics to watch in education
• Implementation Science
Implementation Science offers the opportunity understand how to apply research in practice across school settings.
"I think the collaborations I’ve had with schools, families, teachers, and SLPs have made me cognizant of doing research that has the ability to scale up."
• Speech language pathologists as school literacy leaders
Speech language pathologists can offer act as literacy leaders, collaborators, and instructional coaches to support the implementation of evidence-based reading instruction and interventions in school.
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About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.